Quick Hit: A wonderful story, with courageous actors, the entire picture comes together in the swell of a song that you never want to end.
Once upon a time, Dear Readers, I aspired to be many things – what child hasn’t, after all? I wasn’t the one that said I wanted to be an astronaut (that’s for the Elon Musk’s of the world), or be a firefighter. I wasn’t attracted to construction workers (though conductor caught my eye thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine, if it does ya fine), and I lingered only shortly on the desire to do something with animals – like a veterinarian. What quickly became apparent to me was how much I loved to read, and then conversely, tell stories. I still love to tell stories, and I still plan on writing someday. I think part of why I love this website so much is because it allows me to continue to write, while still enjoying films.
I also, for a brief time, really considered becoming an actor. I can’t tell you how much of a thrill that I get from standing in front of a group of people, and know that they are hanging on my words and actions in order for emotions to spring forth. Therefore…
I was born to love La La Land.
I’ve often thought that Emma Stone is one of the more talented Hollywood actresses for her ability to blend into roles. She does that here, as Mia, a struggling wanna-be actress who is actually a barista. There’s also Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a young man who is struggling to keep his true love (jazz) alive. The movie focuses on them, but I’ve gotten ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about a terrific, boisterous, in-your-face opening scene.
There’s a crowded highway, with car after car filled with solitary figures. Eventually, music starts, and people begin exiting their car and singing and dancing. The sheer scope of it is amazing, and as the camera continues to wind in between the different performers, you realize quickly that this movie isn’t going to be something familiar.. or is it? That’s because LaLa Land is first a foremost a love song – not just to the city of LA, or to jazz (though both feature prominently, much like in director Damien Chazelle’s last movie Whiplash) – but to the lost art of the musical.
Ok, back to our main performers. Though Mr. Gosling may have come from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, it’s still a bit of a surprise to see he and Ms. Stone dancing and singing with ease. Stone’s voice goes up to much higher octaves than I was aware that she could hit, and Gosling does a terrific job at selling his piano performances. As the pair falls in love, and music surrounds them, you can tell that the actors were selected not for their music and dancing talents (as admirable as their performances may be, they fall short of what you would see in a live theater), but because of their acting chops. It makes them seem all the more human (and therefore, all the more relatable) because you don’t get the fluid feel to their dance moves.
The movie builds to essentially two climaxes, the first of which is Stone’s alone. When she stands in the audition room and performs her solo, it is fantastically performed and acted. I literally got chills at one note she hit, and it wasn’t necessarily because of the note itself. Instead, it was that combined with the haunted, hard-worked, gotta-make-it-this-time look she had.
The second climax is a breath of fresh filmmaking air. In a montage like sequence of the mind, with several filmmaking techniques combined, swelling all together to the sound of the music, it’s easy to get swept up into the emotion of the moment. Many may leave the theater overwhelmed and wanting more, or, at the very least, hoping for a slightly different ending. But that’s the courage that Writer/Director Chazelle shows – he trusts us, and therefore we trust him.
This film was nominated for a record tying 14 Academy Awards - I'm not going to list them all.
Overall, could it be anything but an “A+”?
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"